Monday, February 28, 2011

More Academy Award Fun, In Tweet Form

Here's a "best of" collection of my tweets from last night. It's this level of comic sophistication that got me the following email just now: "Woodland Hills Pawn (@LApawnshop) is now following your tweets (@piker62) on Twitter. " I couldn't be prouder.

#coreyhaim, it's as if the Academy refused to admit you were gone.

With all the new attention I bet the producers of The Kings Speech are kicking themselves for not shooting in 3-D .

Oh great! This is what happens when a movie about a speech wins

Congrats Natalie! This must take the sting out of your boyfriend becoming a dark lord of Sith.

Ladies and gentleman, the ghost of Bob Hope!

Sorkin not delivering accepting speech while walking fast down a hall.

83rd Academy Awards: High Tech Traditionalism

The 83rd Academy Awards is in the books, an impressively long broadcast which tried hard to skew young and relevant-- only to end up as traditional as any Oscar ceremony I've seen in a long time.

Some random viewing notes:

• When the nominations were announced a few weeks ago, I called almost all of them. the only acting award I missed was Melissa Leo rather than Amy Adams for Supporting Actress, but I still get half-credit because both were for The Fighter. This isn't clairvoyance, it's just the application of brute sociology. For instance, the Best Picture win was easy to predict: The popularity and the award push for The Social Network peaked in fall, while The King's Speech was gaining momentum in January. It's a sad conceit, but it's been long observed that Academy voters have the memories of goldfish, and here's the proof.

The nature of the stories told in the above two films may have been a factor as well: A story of friendship bridging a social chasm versus a story about a bunch of privileged Ivy League types suing each other. This was excellently observed in a column I read in the San Jose Mercury about The Social Network, a sort of tech geek take on things. The takeaway quote: "The Social Network is a film about social networking made by people who hate social networking."

• Melissa Leo's rambling, sort of skeevy acceptance speech is what would happen if your favorite neighborhood bartender was awarded an Oscar. From this perspective, her F-bomb was actually obligatory. Are we sure she wasn't one of the Lowell, Mass. folks hired as local color for The Fighter?

• The co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway were a pair of pretty clouds that drifted further and further apart as the evening progressed.  It became apparent that Franco had mentally checked out of anything but the most mechanical aspects of hosting by mid-point (web speculation was that he was rockin' the ganga a little), which left poor Anne having to shuffle and dance and try to pick up the slack.

• I actually got a big kick out of the ending: the stage of the Kodak was stormed by the PS 22 chorus (from Staten Island) who sang "Over the Rainbow." They were joined at the very end by the Oscar winners, waving their gold statuettes. A nice little note to end on.

As fun as this was, it made me finally notice an ongoing problem with the way the Oscars are structured: Winners are shooed backstage, never to return to their seats (this year, they were kept backstage to provide additional web-only content, apparently). This means that as the telecast progresses, the orchestra seats are eventually filled with-- and there's no better way to put this-- losers (and seat fillers). This is probably the reason why the energy level peaks so early. Why not let the winners sit back down with their peers? They could pass their Oscars around, shout encouragement and imprecations from the audience, and generally keep things lively. I'm sure Melissa Leo would have livened things up.

• Ricky Gervais was nowhere to be found.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liveblogging The Oscars

Damn! I meant to blog the Oscars, and wound up tweeting instead. Next year for sure.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Weekend Box Office

"I Am Number One" say the numbers.

Kinda meh this week, openings-wise. At the top of the list, Liam Neeson vehicle Unknown pulls down $22 mil though it can't remember how. Probable non-franchise I Am Number Four belies its title by opening at #2, but it only makes $19 mil. At #5 (ouch!) Martin Lawrence takes time off from his mall galleries to star in Big Mammas: Like Father Like Son. Like $16 mil. He'd be better off buying the rights to one of Tracey Jordan's fake 30 Rock titles.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Department S, For "Soaked in Patchouli"

I am an entertainment consumer of a Certain Age. My tastes run toward nostalgia. I'm ashamed to admit this, but it's true. What's difficult about me and my kind is that I'm fed up with the same old properties that have run until they're worn thin. Enough with Ferris Bueller already! I'm tired of the Eagles! Get that Brady Bunch outta here!

The solution for guys like me is two pronged. Prong number one is modern things that reference older things. I like Lady Gaga because she reminds me of Madonna only not so old and used up; I like hip hop that samples Supertramp, I like Lost because it's kind of a steroidal remake of Gilligan's Island.

The other prong is frankly a little more rewarding to me. What I'm doing tonight in my cozy apartment, as the rain pelts my window, is watching Department S. As a British detective show from 1968, Department S is the perfect nostalgia - old AND unfamiliar, providing a jolt like artifacts from a parallel dimension.

The premise is gloriously cliched. When Interpol has a case that they just can't solve (jet plane goes missing for seven days but all the passengers and crew think they had only blacked out for 30 seconds; warehouse owner finds someone has built a sumptuous living room complete with murdered girl inside it) they call on Department S. This crack team consists of 3 people. Stewart "Sully" Sullivan, the no-nonsense American (Joel Fabiani), Annibel Hurst, beautiful young computer expert (Rosemary Nichols) and Jason King, bon vivant mystery novelist who was played by the redoubtable Peter Wyngarde. Wyngarde is a talented and charismatic actor and the reason why this show rose to cult status. As the least colorless member of the team, he was spun off into his own series after 28 episodes. They say that Austin Powers' wardrobe is based on Jason King's look. God knows it's probably where they got the teeth.

The one I'm watching right now, an entire factory called in sick (poisoned tea) and were replaced by an alternate staff.  The Department S team must figure out why someone would do a thing like that. And stop their larger plan, which 31 minutes in remains a complete mystery. But Jason King has already seduced a half dozen women (and had two whiskeys); Annibel has not gotten near a computer as usual but has been taken hostage as usual, and Sully has been forced to handle all the expository dialog.

Let's be clear. If this show had been available in America when first aired, even my 6 year old self would have thought it's crap. there's a reason why I'm writing this instead of just watching. It's predictable, the plots rarely make sense, and no matter where they go in Europe they always seem to wind up in identical rooms from week to week. Plus, Jason King is more creepy than charming. But NOW, with 40 years distance, it's fantastically entertaining. I'm like, LOOK AT THEIR HAIR! And HEY, A LOTUS! and IS THAT TONY HOPKINS?

I've seen 6 episodes and not once have they mentioned what S stands for.

You want to watch it too? You can't! Not if you're American anyway. They don't even have a region 1 DVD. Which is great, because if they did, I'd have already seen it and used it up. As it is, I still have 20 virgin episodes to while away my rainy nights.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rama Lama Ding Dong: The DVD

Just a few days a go a real treat landed here at my day job (authoring DVDs and BluRays): a 3-disc Doo-wop concert series.

I can't go into too much detail, because of the whole professional confidentiality deal, but the disc set is one of those public television promotional titles, the kind you'll get if you pledge some determined amount. The first two discs are all relatively recent oldies-tour performances by original 1950s artists, which is a treat in itself when you watch some of these solidly senior senior citizens belting out songs like they were still teenagers-- like septuagenarian Jay Black holding, holding, holding the high notes on "Cara Mia."

The Shields.
But the fun part was the third disc, a wad of old kinescopes of original 1950s doo-wop acts, mostly culled from the old Philadelphia "American Bandstand." It completely embodied the complete bafflement, mentioned earlier, that the powers of media had with new music.

The Flamingos.
In song after song in the compilation, the Doo-wop groups deliver the goods in increasingly weird stage settings. The Shields sang "You Cheated, You Lied" dressed as naval officers at the wheel of a tall-masted ship. The Flamingos delivered a performance of their hit "I Only Have Eyes For You" in winter gear, next to a faux frozen pond. The lead singer looked quite bewildered throughout.

(note: I'd LOVE to uploads clips of this stuff, rather than just describe them. But I'd get in in sooooo much trouble. If I ever find them already posted, I'll update with links. But stills are OK-- That's more like free publicity.)

The Skyliners.
I'll assume you've all heard "Since I Don't Have You," the 1958 hit by The Skyliners, right? It's a slow, soaring Doo-wop ballad (covered by Guns n' Roses and Buckaroo Banzai). It's not hard to have a mental image of this song as a cool, sophisticated urban tune, infused with a Steel City street-corner vibe. So seeing them dressed like extras from "Bonanza," shuffling in hesitation step through a hyper-detailed Old West Saloon set (complete with balcony) is strange on an almost extraterrestrial level.
The studio audience.
The buttons they're wearing are for
a Beech Nut Gum ad campaign--
which explains why they were all
chewing like a bunch of ex-smokers.

And the studio audience of Philly teens had a hard time getting it too. In several of the performances they could be heard clapping along in "white" up-beat and "black" down-beat at the same time, combining for a dissonant double-time clap-CLAP-clap-CLAP syncopation.

These days, nobody of any ethnic affiliation would be caught dead clapping on the upbeat. Except in Disneyland. When I went there as a kid with my friend K. David (the talented guitarist who turned me onto this super-odd Rolling Stones promo), he would bedevil the tourists by insisting we all hit the 2 and 4 during the robotic entertainments. It never turned the crowd, but maybe it got them thinking.

I've always liked this old music. But I like music in general, and some new stuff (like "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green) is amazing. Was it better music? Can't say, but I saw a rather poignant YouTube comment on the Skyliners song that gave me pause: "I wish I was a teenager in the 50's and 60's, I cant tell you enough how much it sucks to be 17 right now when all the music around you is crap and the cars look ugly as hell and are all plastic and the styles are all junk." I said the same thing back in 1978, so I can relate.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Pre-teen girls go crazy for numbers!

But not crazy enough! It's a bad week for teenage popstar Justin Beiber. For one thing, he lost the Best New Artist Grammy to a woman named Esperanza Spaulding who no one, not even the recording industry, had heard of; then his 3D concert movie Never Say Never (which was #1 as of Friday) only came it at #2 with a little under $30 million. It was close but the Beib came in behind Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy vehicle Just Go With It, which made a little under $31 million. Poor kid. He's probably looking into narcotics about now.

At #3 a CGI comedy Gnomio and Juliet made $25 million and waaaay beihind everything is The Eagle at #4 with $8 million.

A collection called 2011 Oscar Shorts debuts at #30 with $300K. What could it be about, I wonder?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Finally, A Use For Classical Musicians

When Movie Screens Ran Red (With Ink)

And just to bookend Daniel's post about the most profitable films of all time, CNBC posted a slideshow of the 15 biggest box-office bombs of all time. Being CNBC, these are the ones that represented the highest loss per investment, as opposed to artistic failures or low-budget bombs-- which is good, because that would be one long, long slideshow.

Three of these films were so financially disastrous they brought down the studios that made them. Square Pictures, associated with the video game company of the same name, was brought low by Final Fantasy (2001) and a fundamental misunderstanding of the uncanny valley. The venerable Carolco shingle (who brought us the Terminator movies) was undone by Cutthroat Island (1995), Renny Harland's pirate-themed love letter to his then-wife Geena Davis. And United Artists Pictures, which was founded by Charlie Chaplin and co. in the early silent era, was destroyed by the failure of the infamous Heaven's Gate (1980).

For reasons that are either obvious or fortuitous, I've only seen two of these films, Soldier and Speed Racer. I'm quite surprised Soldier cost so much money, as it appeared to have been shot entirely in a junkyard. On the other hand, every single CGI-related penny they spent on Speed Racer us up there on the screen, in eye-smarting color and action sequences so incoherently blurry and fast it overwhelmed my cable connection-- the physics-defying car races fractured on my HD flatscreen into data-failure macroblocks.

Crazy, risky business, movies. Thank god.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Weekend Box Office

What could possibly go wrong, diving in caves for numbers?

Superbowl weekend essentially cuts the potential box office by a third, and programming movies for it is an interesting challenge. Do you just write off the male audience and open movies that appeal to women? Or do you save those movies for Valentine's Day? As it turns out you split the difference, and hope that men will take out their dates on Friday and Saturday, to make up for the fact that they will be completely unavailable on Sunday.

Hence the two movies that opened in the top ten this weekend. At #2 it was Sanctum, which kinda tanked despite being in 3D and boasting plenty of wet cave action. $9 million! That ain't nothing! I wonder if the Freudian signifigance of being trapped by a wet dark cave turned off filmgoers; or maybe they thought it was the other one about the guy who chewed off his own arm in a cave.

#1 saw the arrival of The Roommate, which made $15 million. It's kind of creepy seeing how much this movie wants to be Single White Female, copying its movements, dressing up like it, even stealing its lipstick. But it's still only a cheap little star-power-less echo of that movie. I hope it gets its comeuppance!

Monday, February 7, 2011


So here are the highlights of MY Sunday.

1. Farmer's Market in Long Beach - bought a couple of Bacon Avocados and a bison steak.

2. Helped my girlfriend escape from the onorous yoke of Comcast by fixin' up her roof antenna.

3. Not watching the Superbowl, except to test reception.

LH (said girlfriend) has been on Comcast since she moved in to her place last year, and she got one of those bundles where they provide cable and internet service for a low introductory rate. And since she doesn't watch a lot of TV she got the absolute minium of cable possible - local channels, public access, weather, the Learning Channel and Classic Arts Showcase. And even though she has a 32 inch 1080i TV, her cable box was only providing standard def. She'd come over to my place and see glorious Hi-Def images pulled out of the ether for nothin' and she decided it worth the cost of 3 months of service to buy a good roof antenna and get it installed. However, the guy who put it up there just basically stuck it in a hole and left.

The thing is, lugging the thing up a ladder and putting it a hole nowadays is the hardest part. My job was easy as hell, even easier because I have what those guys in the sixties didn't; an iphone. (I also needed a monkey wrench and screwdriver, but that's details). But the most important thing you need when you're setting up an antenna is which way to point it, and putting this into your browser is almost the whole battle. You tell it where you are, it tells you where the signals are. As it happens, in Los Angeles County almost all the TV worth seeing comes from Mount Wilson, so you don't have to choose which stations you'd rather see. The whole package is right there.

From my apartment, Mount Wilson is 76-78 degrees off magnetic north. If I were setting up the antenna there, I'd take the iPhone up to the roof, use the compass, and point the antenna that way. And I'm thinking of trying to get permission to do that, because now my girlfriend gets better reception than I do. In fact, terrestrial HD is a better quality than cable or satellite HD because those guys take the terrestrial signal and recompress it before they send it to you. If you have multiple inputs on your HDTV (you do, trust me) consider hooking up an antenna for the local channels.

Tonight I think I'll enjoy House in pristeen HD while eating my bison steak. By the way, who won?

Eximius Scaphium XLV

Another splendid event of imperial scale, in which the battle-tested Sarcinatori of the tiny outlier settlement of Sinus Verdis faced off against the favored Faberici Ferrum of the mighty Civitates of Arces Pittus before more than 100,000 lustily screaming citizens. The gods of the republic were sated by the spectacle-- particularly Bacchus, Mars and special guest deity Mammon, god of money.

The Super Bowl is a celebration of American exceptionalism, and in that respect the comparison to a Roman triumph is most appropriate. Barbarian pastimes like soccer are unmentioned; decadence is taken to the extreme ($900+ for SRO seats for the game; $200 to watch it from the parking lot); and viewership outside the sphere of our direct control is noted only as affirmation of the superiority of our particular form of SPQR. It is a far more reassuring indicator of the state of the Union than the presidential state of the union address could ever be, and it is far more effective at addressing the needs and fears of our collective psyche.

Some random observations:

• The game itself was, as last year, quite a good one. And this time I almost nailed the point spread: I picked Green Bay by 5, and they came within a point of that. Good passing, some amazing plays and smart officiating. The pros down on the field conducted their game with professionalism, unlike...

• No wardroom malfunctions per se, but a few things did go spectacularly off the rails. Christina Aguilera muffed the lyrics of "The Star Spangled Banner," the anthem for the country where the Super Bowl is being played this year and, coincidentally, the nation Ms. Aguilera was born and raised in. Blowing the national anthem at a professional sporting event-- now there's something I've never seen before. When Rosanne Barr's performed her notorious crotch-grabbing version back in 1990, even she got the words right.

Around the middle of the halftime show some massive lit-up stage pieces were wheeled in so the performers could cavort about on them. one section malfunctioned--leaving what should have been the word "LOVE" looking like "LO\'E."

• Ah, the half-time show. To quote someone else's Twitter, "It was nice of the Black Eyed Peas to come back in time and warn us about the future of music." Funny, but the show was definitely a look at the present state of pop music, which looked like a Broadway version of Tron: Legacy-- LED-lit costumes, inexplicable geometric patterns and very serious, Cylon-sounding AutoTune abuse. Slash appeared as Slash, doing a Slash guitar jam. Usher showed up, doing a very convincing Usher. And hey-- if the BEPs were doing a medley, where was "My Humps," dammit?

• The commercials for the most part were banking on familiar American themes, nostalgia, trivia and slapstick humor. Some seriously thin retreads were, Snickers, eTrade: same s***, different year. Two car ads caught a lot of attention, both highlighting some rather arcane and useless new features of their vehicles: The Darth Vader VW ad (keyless ignition, which looks kinda dangerous) and Chevy Cruz's Facebook capability (which probably IS dangerous).

My favorites were the ones that pushed against the paradigm a little: The stirring, beautifully shot Chrysler ad featuring Eminem-- with the tagline "Imported from Detroit," which re-brands it as being somewhere outside the USA and confirms just about how far the Motor City has fallen. The Groupon Tibet ad, which started like a far-left political message and came within a hair of pissing off the Chinese government AND most liberal activists.

• Although there was nothing but loud cheering throughout the telecast, much of what has been written about this contest has a vaguely apocalyptic tone. The feeling is that Super Bowl XLV may well be the biggest, best one we'll ever see. A dispute with the NFL player's union looms, and there is much talk about a shutdown or lockout in the upcoming season.

Even if the players, the league and the owners iron everything out, the awareness of how the modern game exacts such a high physical and neurological toll on players is rising. The men on the line of scrimmage have been leading tackles "from the hat" (i.e. helmet-against-helmet drives) for years now, and the majority of NFL players have had serious concussions as a result. 2011 may see the beginning of a wave of class-action suits against the league from punched-out, demented former players. Dark clouds are forming on the horizon, and the barbarians (or at least barbarian-sized former players) are gathering at the Danube.

So if this were were a Roman spectacle, Super Bowl XLV is set during the reign of emperor Trajan (98-117 CE), a time when the Roman  Empire reached it's maximum extent.

Oh, and forgive the bar-floor Latin. The title, I realize, would be better translated as "Scaphius Maximus XLV." Oh well: Sic transit Gloria Cheeseheads.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Here's Another Clue For You All

For people who like their conspiracy theories to be explicitly without merit, this may provide you with an hour's entertainment. The blog Turn Me On Dead Man exhaustively researched the insane rumors about Paul McCartney's death and presents all the evidence for you to enjoy.

The story was that Paul McCartney had died in a car accident at 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 9, 1966...Paul had picked up a female hitchhiker on his way to visit friends. The woman became so excited when she realized who had picked her up that she threw her arms around Paul and caused him to lose control of the car. Both Paul and his passenger were killed when the car swerved off the road and hit a stone fence. And here's where the story takes a turn toward the ludicrous—Paul was decapitated in the accident and the trauma to his head was so severe that even his dental records were useless in identifying the victim! Not wanting to lose potential record sales, record company executives suppressed the story of Paul's death and brought in a lookalike to replace him. For some reason (this is the part where you have to suspend disbelief) the surviving Beatles agreed to go along with this scheme, but they left clues on all of their subsequent albums about Paul's death and the imposter who took his place. Paul's stand-in was a man named William Campbell, who had won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest. With a little plastic surgery, William Campbell had taken Paul's place in photos of the group. The surgery had been successful except for a small scar above his lip. And, as luck would have it, William Campbell could also sing and just happened to be a songwriter with an exceptional ear for pop melodies.
To me the best evidence that McCartney wasn't replaced with an imposter is timing: if he was rumored to have been killed in a crash and replaced around 1976, when his songwriting really went to crap, THEN you'd have a case. Instead, a few years after that Paul released a live album with this cover.

You can't see the licence plate on the VW but it says 51 IS. Now that's comedy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Deeply predictable numbers right here.

I brought my netbook to work today! Usually when I write these Weekly Box Office reports, I'm tabbing between pages on one browser; today I'm looking at one screen and writing on the other! I tell you this because it's more interesting than the actual box office news.

Hopefully nobody involved in The Rite was thinking it was some kind of innovation. Take Anthony Hopkins, make him an exorcist, then make him a POSSESSED exorcist. I mean, it's Hopkins! You're obligated! So yes, this movie opened at #1 but it only made $15 million. It will drop over 50% next weekend. Thanks for playing.

At #3, a remake of The Mechanic or possibly a Jason Statham movie with the same title and nothing else in common. With that casting I hope it's the latter. In any event, only $11 million.

OMG I just heard on the internet radio that Fox has licensed Angry Birds with an eye towards either a movie or an animated series. Sadly, there is no money in a 30-second short.